The category of documentaries about seniors who decide to become performing artists threatens to become a genre all unto itself: first “Young @ Heart,” now “Gotta Dance.”
Thankfully, Dori Berinstein’s charming film goes beyond the “cute old people” pigeonhole, creating a story of senior citizens given a chance at something they thought had passed them by. As they tell their stories and the audience watches their progress, it’s hard not to become invested in their stories.
Berinstein’s film begins with an open audition seeking seniors to form a dance troupe to perform during time-outs at New Jersey Nets games. The kicker: They’ll be dancing to a hip-hop score (hip-hop being the unofficial theme music of the NBA).
The camera tracks what become the NETSational Dancers from that audition to the first rehearsal to their first performance – when they bring down the house. Suddenly, they’re a media sensation, sought out for TV shows, print interviews and more.
Which is when it starts to get hard. The Nets, unfortunately, won’t let them rest on their laurels; they can’t just keep performing the same routine at every game. Instead, the Nets expect them to learn a new routine for each of their dozen performances – and these old muscles take more time than the Nets seem willing to give to pick up a new set of steps. Despite the publicity bonanza, Nets’ management is more than willing to cut them from the game line-up if the quality of their performance isn’t up to snuff.
As the film watches the dancers struggle with the new steps, it also looks at their lives outside of the rehearsal studio. Some are retired, some still work – but all are revitalized by performing, even as they cope with the issues of aging. The film isn’t heavy-handed in that respect – it casually scores points with the idea that age is no excuse for not exercising and that exercise is a secret to remaining active and vital.
You’ll absolutely develop favorites among the personable group of dancers – and a rooting interest for them to succeed. Berinstein captures not just the hard work but the sense of pride they develop, which moves them to work fiercely to earn that second performance and beyond. In that sense, “Gotta Dance” becomes an underdog tale – and an engaging one, at that – of unlikely heroes fighting the odds and overcoming expectations.